Enduring Charity: A Charity Styles Novel
When her position with the government is eliminated, Charity Styles is faced with an uncertain future. The only part of her previous life that she truly enjoyed was sailing her classic sloop. The cruising lifestyle is wonderful and helps keep her mind centered, as she sails from one anchorage to another, looking for her true calling. But there are hidden dangers: marauding pirates, psychopaths, and drug smugglers run rampant throughout the Caribbean, leaving pain and suffering in their wake.. In the Bahamas, someone close to Charity falls victim to the brutality, leaving her alone and despondent with nobody to turn to. She wants revenge, but when other victims appear, she must change course, adjust her sails, and work to get them out of a very perilous situation. Old friends arrive to help. But will their small entourage be sufficient? And will they be able to mobilize quickly enough?
Release date: April 15, 2018
Publisher: Down Island Press, LLC
Print pages: 278
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Enduring Charity: A Charity Styles Novel
A light wind gently rocked the old boat. It was a warm easterly breeze carrying the aroma of the sea, mixed with the faint echoes of exotic scents from distant lands. It was this same wind that carried the first Europeans across the ocean. Between the twenty-third and twenty-fifth latitudes, the wind came straight out of the east this time of year in the western Atlantic, unfaltering for half the reach of the ocean. Approaching the coast of Europe and Africa, the winds bent east-northeast. Tracing these trade winds in reverse, there was very little but open ocean to impede their progress, all the way back to the coasts of Morocco, Portugal, Spain, and beyond there, into the very cradle of exploration, the Mediterranean Sea. Air so fresh is seldom found anywhere on shore.
An occasional soft thunk from the halyard against the wooden mast and the subtle creaking of the seventy-six-year-old wooden boat’s hull were the most prominent sounds. The water was so tranquil that even those were few. Quietly floating a hundred yards from the white sand beach, the boat itself was the only thing around that wasn’t natural; though not seeing a boat in such an idyllic setting might seem more so.
From the trees along the shoreline, an occasional wading bird would call to its mate. The slight movement the sea and wind imparted on the boat caused the hammock below the boom to casually swing back and forth. To the west the sun hung low, just a few degrees above a clear horizon.
Charity Styles had sailed Wind Dancer to Hoffman’s Cay to dive the blue hole. Yesterday, she’d anchored on the lee side of the uninhabited island, part of the Berry Islands of the northern Bahamas. It held the distinction of having one of the few inland blue holes in the island nation, and she found them fascinating.
Lying in the hammock, watching the sun perform its evening dance of color and light, Charity thought about her life to this point. In ten days, she’d reach her thirtieth birthday. To her, it would be just another day; no cause for jubilation. Her generation barely recognized thirty as a milestone.
Today, however, was different. Most Americans her age would be out with friends, in rowdy celebration of the coming new year. It was said that whatever one was doing at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve was the activity they would be involved in for most of the coming year. This was why couples kissed at midnight.
Charity was alone on her boat. She’d been alone before, and it never bothered her. Besides, Victor wasn’t far away and would be joining her soon. They’d been sailing and island-hopping together for nearly four months, exploring the hundreds of tiny islands, shoals, and anchorages from the Virgin Islands up through the Bahamas. For most of that time, the two had anchored in secluded coves with nobody else around, allowing them ample time to explore each other, as well.
They’d left Hawksbill Cay three days earlier, having spent a week anchored off a small, isolated cove with a white sand beach. They hadn’t even seen another boat during that whole week. Their plan had been to reach Hoffman’s Cay in two days, stopping for the night and to reprovision in Nassau. Then they would spend the last few days of the year diving and exploring the blue hole.
The first leg of the ninety-mile journey went very well. The wind was steady, the seas fair, and the skies clear. On the second leg, after a day-long layover to replenish their food, water, and fuel in Nassau, Victor hit a floating log just two hours out of port and began taking on water. He didn’t find a hull breach, but water was coming in around the propeller shaft seal.
Charity had followed him back to the marina, and rather than risk running his engine, she anchored and towed him in with her dinghy. It took a couple of hours before they could get his boat out of the water, but the bilge pumps didn’t have any trouble keeping up with the leak.
Rather than both being stuck in Nassau, Victor had urged her to sail the forty-five miles to the anchorage; he would join her once he had Salty Dog on the hard and inspected for damage. There were quite a few go-fast boats around the capital and commercial hub of the Bahamas, any one of which he could hire to bring him across in less than an hour. He’d called her earlier in the afternoon to say he’d be another night in Nassau.
Charity watched the sunset from her hammock, a half-full glass of wine on the cabin top beside her. In truth, she was glad for the temporary solitude. Life is permanently temporary; it’s here for a little while. So one has to take advantage of the quiet moments to reflect.
She cared deeply for Victor, but the only period she had any alone time was when they were under sail. Last night had been the first night she’d been completely alone for quite a while, and she had enjoyed it.
Lifting the wine glass to her lips, she thought again about the life she’d left behind. For the better part of two years, Wind Dancer had left a trail of death and destruction in her wake. So far, there had been no pursuers, nobody looking for her in retribution for what she’d done or to silence her from talking about it. She’d contacted one or two trusted friends, and it seemed as if everything she’d been told was true: Her past was indeed gone and buried.
She placed the glass back on the cabin top as the last of the sun slipped silently below the horizon. There wasn’t a cloud anywhere, so only a small portion of the southwestern sky glowed a rusty red, and that only lasted a few seconds before it too was gone. Twilight didn’t last long on the water.
The Florida Keys – and what had once been home – lay almost two full days of sailing in the very same direction the sun had gone. She hadn’t had a real home since before college, before her father died. The Army had been home for a while. But she’d never felt as needed and had such a sense of belonging as she did when she worked for the American government in the Keys.
Drifting off to sleep, Charity lay unmoving, wearing only shorts and a tank top. Anchored far enough from shore that the bugs couldn’t find her and the night air was tempered by the warm, shallow water, she was more than comfortable and slept peacefully.
Until a strange sound woke her.
She sprang from the hammock, fully awake and alert, standing on the side deck. Charity could tell by the position of the stars that she’d been asleep for only a couple of hours. The sound of an engine could be heard on the other side of the island, moving slowly toward the south. She followed it in her mind, her ears telling her where the boat was located. It slowly passed the tip of Hoffman’s Cay and turned into the deep cut between it and the two smaller islands to the south, White Cay and Fowl Cay.
The natural channel was tricky during daylight hours; it made several turns before clearing the islands. Either the person at the helm was nuts or they knew the waters very well.
Charity was anchored on the west side of Hoffman’s Cay, just north of a point of land jutting out into the shallow water. Beyond the spit of land, she could see the lights of the boat as it cleared the southern tip of Hoffman’s and turned north. The pilot picked his way through the shallows, slowly approaching the point. Finally, Charity heard a large splash. They were anchoring in the next cove to the south of the point.
The engine shut off, and it was quiet again. Occasionally, she heard someone talking — either a woman, or a man with a high voice. Charity couldn’t make out anything that was said, just the tone of the speech. She wasn’t even sure if it was English.
Patience was something Charity had in spades. She waited and watched the other boat until it became quiet again. Over the headland, she could see the lights from the boat, a trawler, but she couldn’t make out any detail. The inside lights were soon doused, leaving only their mast light shining.
Charity looked up at the top of her mast. Wind Dancer’s mast light was on, but nothing more, so she didn’t know if the other boat was aware of her presence or not. She assumed they were, since hers was the preferred anchorage.
Maybe they just don’t want to crowd, Charity thought, gathering her things. Most cruisers she’d met really valued their privacy and appreciated solitary vistas, still mornings, and quiet evenings.
She went aft to the cockpit and double-checked that the dinghy’s painter was secure. She opened a small console next to the helm and took out one of her handguns, wrapped in oilcloth. There were other hiding places for items of value all over the boat. Most cruisers were also pirates in some small way, smuggling untaxed alcohol, cash, recreational drugs, and weapons into and out of island nations. Boats had dozens of places where a little crafty carpentry work could hide a lot, and few customs inspectors dug really deep into a boat’s bilge area unless they were certain what they were looking for.
Charity was no different. Wind Dancer had a dozen stash spots built into her interior woodwork during a complete refit, paid for by the United States government. She had half a dozen firearms, some explosives, military-grade electronic and surveillance equipment, and a considerable sum of cash on board. Even some untaxed alcohol.
The helm console hiding spot was only used when underway, for quick access. When she was in port, Charity hid the big Colt 1911 in another, more secure spot down in the cabin.
She stuck the Colt, which had once belonged to her father, into the big cargo pocket of her shorts and sat down on the starboard bench. From there, she could easily watch the other boat and the approach around the spit. Putting her feet up, she got comfortable and watched the sky for a while. A half-moon hung directly overhead and provided plenty of light to see her surroundings. After nearly an hour, not seeing any movement or hearing any sound from the other boat, she finally rose and went to the cabin hatch.
Below, she closed and secured the hatch. Increasingly often, this was something she hadn’t bothered with. She and Victor had almost always been alone in an anchorage. But with another boat so close by, it was prudent to take precautions. She opened the aft portholes on either side of the salon, then rinsed her glass and put it away. The moonlight streaming through the overhead port light was more than enough to see by. Besides, Charity knew every nook and cranny of her old boat, like it was part of her.
Going forward to the vee berth, she opened the overhead hatch just enough to let the breeze fill the tiny cabin. Placing the Colt on the shelf near her head, she stripped down to just her panties and crawled onto the bunk. In minutes, she was again fast asleep, secure in the knowledge that she’d hear anything that came even remotely close to her boat.
Victor Pitt watched the sun going down from the cockpit of his boat. Normally, this was something he very much enjoyed. Especially lately. He and Charity had been together for four months, anchored primarily in isolated coves for days on end. She rarely wore anything if they were alone and it was warm enough. The diffuse light of the setting sun on her body always got his blood pumping.
But tonight, his view of the sunset was sandwiched between an old Chris-Craft Commander that looked like it hadn’t been in the water since the millennium and a hulking warehouse building. The Dog was on the hard, waiting for parts to arrive from Florida. And Victor was alone.
It was only the second time Salty Dog had been out of the water since he’d bought her eight years earlier. Victor detested having his boat up on blocks on the hard, he hated being this close to so many people, he hated the noise, and he hated being away from Charity. In short, Victor wasn’t really in the mood for the loud New Year festivities.
Yet the celebration was beginning to crank up all around him, in the many bars and restaurants all around Brown Boat Basin. A band was playing at the Green Parrot, half a mile across Nassau Harbor at Hurricane Hole. It was competing, and winning, against jukeboxes and other bands in nearby bars all along the waterfront.
The log that Salty Dog had collided with the day before had been partially submerged, so he hadn’t seen it. Another day or two and it would have been so waterlogged that it would have begun to sink, as all things eventually do in the ocean. The hull was fine, but the log had somehow turned and impacted the prop and rudder, knocking the stuffing box loose and allowing water to come in. He hoped the prop-shaft was okay, but they wouldn’t know until they pulled the shaft and tested it. Since the new prop would be at least three days in arriving, the mechanic had opted to wait until it arrived before starting any work.
It was New Year’s Eve, and Victor was stuck in one of the biggest tourist traps in the Caribbean — Nassau, capital city of the Bahamas. He had a boat arranged for the morning, to take him north to join Charity on Hoffman’s Cay. Then the two of them could sail back to Nassau once the work on Salty Dog was finished. But he was stuck there one more night.
Reaching down, he opened the cooler at his feet and took out his last beer. They’d just reprovisioned two days ago, right here in Nassau, but since they were only planning to be on Hoffman’s Cay for a week, they’d loaded only Charity’s boat with groceries. Her refrigerator worked better than his, so he had most of the dry goods.
The last of the sun disappeared, along with the last of Victor’s beer. Taking the cooler back down to the galley, he cleaned it and put it away. Reclining on the settee, he picked up a paperback from the table, intent on finding out what the Key Largo fly fisherman, Thorn, was up to these days — but after a few minutes of trying to read, he knew it was pointless. As was any chance of getting any sleep until the parties died down.
If you can’t beat ’em, he thought, rising and going to his stateroom at the back of the big Formosa ketch. From his hanging locker, he took a pair of jeans and a clean button-down shirt and changed out of his shorts and tee-shirt. Slipping a pair of worn Topsiders on his feet and his Salty Dog cap over his unruly hair, he went forward to the engine room and opened the hatch. He had to lay on his side next to the engine to be able to feel around under it. Reaching deeper, he felt the panel and moved his hand along the top to find the groove. He pulled the panel out and reached in again. He felt the familiar watertight box and pulled it out. Opening it, he took out two hundred dollars, then put the box back and went back up the ladder, locking the hatch behind him.
Exiting the marina’s storage yard, Victor turned left on Bay Street and followed the sound of celebration. It wasn’t a long walk; just a hundred yards up the street he found a place called Celebrity Status and went inside.
The clientele seemed to be an even mix of locals and cruisers, but tourists outnumbered both. A cruise ship must be at the terminal for the night. Victor took a stool at the end of the bar and ordered a Kalik. The three-piece band wasn’t all that bad. Two black men played steel drums and bongos, and a young white man with dreads played guitar.
After another beer, Victor began to relax. He decided that being in a big city wasn’t really all that bad. With so many tourists around, he melted easily into the background.
Two young women, one blond and one brunette, took seats at the bar next to him. They were dressed for a night on the town, wearing clingy dresses that barely reached their thighs. He guessed they were in their mid-twenties, and pretended to ignore them and their incessant chatter about having the real Bahamian experience.
Yeah, he thought, like you’re really gonna find that in a tourist bar.
“There’s a place on Mackey Street that’s supposed to be authentic,” the blonde said.
“Where’s that?” the brunette asked.
The blonde looked toward the bartender, who had his back turned. “I don’t know,” she said, glancing around. Her eyes fell on Victor. “Excuse me.” She touched his shoulder. “Do you know where Mackey Street is?”
Victor looked at the two women. They were both attractive; the brunette had chocolate-brown eyes that looked almost black, and the blonde’s eyes were a dazzling shade of green. They also seemed to have started their celebration earlier than prudent. Obviously off a cruise ship.
“From Paradise Island,” he replied, “cross the bridge and instead of turning left to get here, stay straight. That’s Mackey.”
“You’ve been to the Jump Up and Shout?” she asked.
“Never heard of it,” he replied, motioning the bartender for another beer. “But you don’t want to go too far up Mackey. Once you’re over the hill, it’s not safe.”
After learning that Victor wasn’t from their cruise ship, the blonde began telling him about the different ports the Delta Star had visited that week. Most of the ports she mentioned had been on his and Charity’s list of places to avoid.
The blonde was the more outgoing of the two and did most of the talking. She ordered three shots of rum and offered one to Victor. The two women tossed the shots down, grimacing, then got up to dance. Victor accepted the shot with a nod, swallowed the rum in one gulp, and ordered another beer.
The brunette seemed the quiet type, following along with whatever the other woman wanted to do. The two danced together, and the band, seeing the pretty tourists, changed to a slower, more seductive beat. The two women had no trouble getting into the groove, dancing even more provocatively.
Victor was starting to feel a bit woozy. He knew that the liquor in these kinds of places wasn’t top shelf and was watered down, so he doubted it was the rum shot. He’d only had four beers, but lately he and Charity hadn’t been drinking much, so maybe his tolerance was lower. At any rate, he was having a hard time focusing on anything but the mesmerizing movements of the bodies of the two women.
Victor learned that the blonde’s name was Rayna. She tried to pull him up to join them. There wasn’t really a dance floor, so the women were just dancing next to their seats at the bar. The song ended, and the women stopped their gyrations — to the obvious disappointment of many of the men in the bar.
Rayna sat next to Victor and turned toward him. She crossed her long legs, letting her calf barely caress Victor’s leg. The brunette, whose name Victor had finally learned was Fiona, stood next to her friend, one arm draped across the back of Victor’s barstool as she leaned against the blonde.
“How dangerous is it?” Fiona asked, leaning in close to Victor, giving him an ample view of her cleavage. “Mackey Street, I mean.”
“If tourists go over the hill after dark,” Victor said, beginning to slur his words, “they’re pretty much gonna get robbed.”
“He’s right, Miss,” the bartender said, leaning over the bar. “Far be it fuh me to say someting bad bout me own island, but crime be almost certain on di udduh side of di hill.”
“Besides,” Victor said, feeling even more light-headed, “this isn’t the real Bahamas.” He swept his arm toward the street and the bay beyond it, nearly falling off his stool. “That’s out there.”
Rayna and Fiona both leaned in close to Victor, each placing a hand on one of his thighs. Fiona pulled his shoulder and head around, practically burying his face in their abundant bosoms.
The touch of their hands through his Dockers sent a jolt of electricity through Victor’s nervous system. Rayna put her hand on his head and slowly pulled his cheek to her chest, igniting a fire and waking every cell of his libido. As their hands slowly massaged their way up his thighs, Victor no longer cared what their names were.
Rayna’s words tickled his ear. “Maybe you could walk a couple of girls back to the ship?”
Together, the three of them left the bar and went up Bay Street toward the bridge. A small part of Victor’s mind knew that what he was doing was wrong. Hell, it was insanity. A flicker of consciousness told him that he’d been drugged. But whatever it was that Blondie had slipped in his rum shot was making him feel far too excited to do anything about it. Nor even want to.
They walked down the street with Victor sandwiched between them. The women had their arms around his waist and his arms over their shoulders, helping him walk. To further drive him over the edge, both women held his wrists so that his open hands were held firmly against their breasts.
The two women turned Victor into an alley and suddenly there were three young men standing in front of them. They stopped. Victor was only vaguely aware that anyone else was around and continued to fondle the women’s breasts through and under their satiny dresses. He decided he liked the brunette best; she had actually encouraged him to go for second base, pushing his hand under the top of her skimpy dress as they walked.
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